Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi announced the launch of a military offensive yesterday to retake the northern Iraqi city of Shirqat, in the Salahuddin province, from Daesh.
Al-Abadi made the announcement in a televised speech from New York where he was attending the annual UN General Assembly meeting.
Shirqat is Daesh's last holding in Salahuddin located about 90 kilometres south of Daesh's de facto Iraqi capital of Mosul.
Following the prime minister's announcement, local security officials claimed to have recaptured four villages in the district of Shirqat, named after the town which is its capital, with the help of US-led coalition airstrikes.
Speaking to the Anadolu Agency, Ghazwan Al-Jibouri, an Iraqi police officer involved in the operation to retake Shirqat, said that the villages had been taken in order to allow military units to move on the Sunni Arab town.
"Iraqi forces are now moving towards Shirqat," Al-Jibouri said.
Concerns over civilian casualties
The Governor of Salahuddin, Ahmed Al-Jibouri, called on the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), including the Shia Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), to treat civilians trapped in Shirqat well and to avoid harming them during the battles for the town.
The governor's statement comes in light of the fact that other Iraqi military operations to dislodge Daesh have resulted in horrific atrocities committed by ISF and PMF forces.
Last June, and ahead of the Iraqi effort to dislodge Daesh from Fallujah, Human Rights Watch reported "credible" allegations of summary executions, beatings, enforced disappearances and mutilation by government forces.
Less than a month later, Human Rights Watch reported that their efforts to determine the efficacy of Al-Abadi's promised investigations into ISF and PMF investigations revealed that abuses against civilians were being "kept under wraps", suggesting a culture of ISF and militia impunity.
While Iraq has suffered from instability since US-led forces invaded and occupied it in 2003, its security situation plummeted in mid-2014 when Daesh captured Mosul, the country's second largest city, along with vast swathes of territory in northern, central and western Iraq.
Over the past year, the ISF – backed by the PMF as well as the US-led coalition airstrikes – has managed to retake most of the territory Iraq lost to Daesh. Iraqi officials have vowed to recapture Mosul from Daesh militants by the end of the year.